Life expectancy: A nation afflicted by despair
America remains a rich and powerful nation, but millions of our citizens are “wracked with grief and despair,” said David French in NationalReview.com. Stark evidence of that paradox was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest annual report on American life expectancy, which showed our average span either falling or stagnating for the third consecutive year. The last time we saw a downward trend in life expectancy, America was fighting World War I and suffering through a flu pandemic that killed 675,000. Now drugs and suicide are mostly to blame. The overdose rate is up 356 percent since 1999, and the 2017 death toll—70,237—“far outstrips the total American fatalities in Vietnam.” For a large swath of our population, the family structure has broken down, amid rampant divorce, children being raised out of wedlock, and young men unable to find jobs that support a family. “We’re facing not so much a drug problem as a heartbreak problem,” said Mona Charen, also in NationalReview.com. With families and social bonds crumbling, an AARP study found one-third of Americans reported chronic loneliness. Isolation is a state “about as deadly as smoking.”
The life-expectancy decline is far worse in rural America, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. There—where unemployment and poverty rates are higher—the suicide rate is almost twice that of urban counties. President Trump “owes his presidency to rural Americans,” but other than offering them cultural resentment and scapegoats, he’s done nothing for them. In fact, he’s further hurt them with a devastating trade war that shut Chinese markets to U.S. farm products and cost farmers billions.
Our country’s problems go deeper than economics, said David Brooks in The New York Times. We’ve had 10 years of economic expansion, and the GDP is currently growing at a robust 3.5 percent a year. Yet many employers can’t find workers with necessary skills, and jobs that provide dignity and middle-class wages are dwindling. Millions of people suffer “a crisis of connection.” In many rural and working-class communities, people are no longer involved in churches and community organizations; they’re less likely to know their neighbors and less likely to get married. “It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs” or better welfare programs that will save us from this ongoing “social catastrophe.” It’s human relationships, and a society that cares about people more than money.